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Updated: Saturday, October 26, 2002 7:13 PM EDT
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(6) Notre Dame 34, (13) Florida St 24
NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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FLORIDA ST. SEMINOLES
Florida St. Seminoles
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TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Ticker) -- Notre Dame removed all doubt.

The sixth-ranked Fighting Irish showed they are for real, shocking No. 13 Florida State, 34-24, to remain unbeaten and stake a further claim as a legitimate national championship contender.

Notre Dame's inspired defense, which has carried the team all season, took over the game in the third quarter, forcing turnovers on three consecutive plays late in the period. The offense converted them into 17 points in a 2 1/2-minute span as Notre Dame pulled away from a 10-10 haltime tie to improve to 8-0 for the first time since 1993 - the only other time it beat Florida State.

"It is a very difficult thing to come into this place and win," Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham said. "We played a great game with a great coach and we are very fortunate to walk out with a victory."

The contest was not as close as the final indicated as the Irish built a 34-10 lead before backup Adrian McPherson led the Seminoles (5-3) to a pair of touchdowns in the last two minutes.

Florida State running back Greg Jones managed just 34 yards on 14 carries after running for 190 yards in Florida State's 28-27 loss to Miami two weeks ago.

"There wasn't one thing we did to limit him," Willingham said. "I think our guys just played good, sound defense and doing what we have been consistent about in terms of rallying and running everyone to the ball."

By prevailing in its first visit to Tallahassee, Notre Dame's quest for its first national championship since 1988 could gain even more momentum. The Irish are third in the BCS standings due to their strength of schedule and face Boston College, Navy and Rutgers in their next three games, meaning they could be 11-0 heading into the regular season finale at Southern California.

While still in contention for the Atlantic Coast Conference title, Florida State's season could be unraveling for the second straight year. Last season, Florida State finished 8-4, the first time it lost more than two games since 1986.

The Seminoles have lost three games at home in the last two years after going without a home loss since 1990.

"I can't explain why we are losing games now," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "Unless we are just playing better teams, and they are beating us. We went 10 years without losing a home game. It seems like we are not sure here as we were in the past."

Notre Dame came in ranked 109th in total offense in Division I-A and was a 10-point underdog to the Seminoles. But the defense has created big plays all year, and Saturday was no different. The Fighting Irish have converted 22 takeaways into 88 points.

"The biggest risk when you play Notre Dame is turnovers," Bowden said. "Notre Dame doesn't make any turnovers, and they win."

Due to their offensive woes and five wins by eight points or fewer, there have been questions about Notre Dame's validity. But Saturday's win was Notre Dame's fourth over a ranked opponent. The Irish also have posted consecutive victories against top-25 teams on the road, beating then-No. 15 Air Force, 21-14, last week.

"I have mixed emotions about our team right now," Willingham said. "I think we did some great things today, but there are some things we need to clean up a little bit."

The first big defensive play against the Seminoles came when linebacker Courtney Watson intercepted Chris Rix and returned it 21 yards to the Florida State 23.

Pressured throughout and also victimized by a number of drops, Rix completed just 13-of-32 passes for 207 yards with a pair of interceptions.

Notre Dame got a break when Nicholas Setta's 35-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright and caromed over the crossbar to give the Irish a 13-10 lead with 5:26 left in the third quarter. But Notre Dame had more than the luck of the Irish on its side.

On Florida State's ensuing possession, safety Glenn Earl knocked the ball out of the scrambling Rix's hands. Cornerback Vontez Duff recovered the fumble at the 2 and Ryan Grant scored on the next play to make it 20-10.

Florida State's meltdown continued as linebacker Brandon Hoyle recovered Leon Washington's fumble on the following kickoff.

Again Notre Dame cashed in as Carlyle Holiday tossed a 16-yard touchdown pass to Omar Jenkins in the right corner of the end zone to give the Irish a 27-10 lead with 3:05 left and silence a record crowd of 84,106 at Doak-Campbell Stadium.

"The turnovers were unbelievable," Florida State wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. "I haven't seen three turnovers in a row like that since I've been playing. This loss hurts beyond words."

Not content to sit on the lead, the Fighting Irish made it 34-10 on Grant's 31-yard TD run 4:46 into the final period.

Notre Dame stunned the Seminoles early as Holiday tossed a 65-yard TD pass to Arnaz Battle on the Fighting Irish's first play from scrimmage. Holiday completed 13-of-21 passes for 185 yards.

The Seminoles had a chance to answer Notre Dame on their first possession, driving to a 1st-and-goal at the 4. But a pair of penalties forced Florida State to settle for Xavier Beitia's 24-yard field goal.

Notre Dame also moved effectively on its second possession that resulted in Setta's 39-yard field goal at 10-3 lead.

Florida State got its offense going in the second quarter, putting together a 20-play, 93-yard march in which the Seminoles passed 10 times and ran 10 times.

Rix converted a 4th-and-1 with a two-yard gain to the Notre Dame 39 before a 39-yard completion to Boldin set up Torrance Washington's one-yard touchdown with 4:14 left in the first half.

But that was the last sustained drive for the Seminoles until the final minutes when the contest was out of reach.


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